Homegrown hits: Festival showcases local films

Photo by Andrea Poteet

Detroit filmmaker Al Bradley answers questions about his film “Saint Aubin” at the Poison Apple Film Festival Jan. 28. The event showcased 15 films made throughout Southeastern Michigan.

Sunday Times Newspapers

With the death of Michigan film incentives and once-promising ventures like Unity Studios pulling out of the area, Downriver’s dream of becoming a movie-making mecca seems to have dwindled.

But a group of local filmmakers are out to prove local film talent is not just present, it practically grows on trees.

Film production company Poison Apple Entertainment hosted their second annual film festival Jan. 28 showcasing independent films from Downriver, Detroit and all over the state.

The company, begun in 2010 by graduates of the now-defunct Lifton Institute for Media Skills, have released five short films since then. Poison Apple comprises film producers, directors, editors and writers from all over Southeastern Michigan including sound editors Adam Lang and Robert Langley, both of Allen Park, cinematographer Eric Dodson, of Lincoln Park, makeup artists Donna Terwilliger and Jeff Hornsby, of Dearborn, and assistant director Josh Brown, of Riverview.

Their latest, “Nutshell,” premiered at the festival, which they started as a way for local filmmakers to get a foot in the door, Daniel Smith, of Belleville, who co-owns the company with David Espie, of Westland, said.

“Not a lot of people have those chances,” Smith said. “This is my chance to help the little guy out.”

Clocking in at more than six hours, the festival, held at Spotlight Theatre in Taylor, also showcased films by other Downriver filmmakers, many of whom worked with Posion Apple crew members. Wyandotte-based Captive8 Productions, owned by Posion Apple’s Brion Dodson, showed “Malus Domestica,” a silent film about infidelity created for the 48 Hour Film Project, and a music video for “Little Electro Boy” by Wyandotte musician Steve Sholtes who performs under the name “Hottest Year on Record.” Gibraltar filmmaker Jacob Sullivan’s “They Call Me Sunshine” told the story of a young boy plagued by a mysterious man in his bedroom, while Detroit filmmaker Al Bradley’s “Saint Aubin,” explored the fictional tale of a mysterious woman named after a Detroit street that was home to two real-life murders. Wyandotte filmmaker Scott Galeski also showed two films, “Protangeline,” and “The Tank II.”

The festival has grown from about four films last year to 15 for its second outing. A variety of genres, from horror to sci-fi to comedy, were showcased in the festival.

Brion Dodson said he was most surprised to hear positive support for “Little Electro Boy,” a video he made as a “silly viral video.”

“It just showed me that you can never really know how people will respond to things you create,” he said, “even when you might not think them up to par.”

He said it was fun to see his “year on the screen,” as he played some part in eight of the 15 films shown at the festival.

“It’s fun to look back and realize how busy you have been,” he said. “It makes you feel kind of content…for a few minutes-then its on to the next project.”

Attendee Chichi Manor, of Fraser, said her favorite film was “Malus Domestica,” which used innovative sounds – such as a soda can opening when a character bit an apple– to get around the restrictions of silent film.

“I like how in such a short period of time they got in all the messages,” she said.

David Stringer, of Livonia, who did sound production on “St. Aubin,” said he came to the event to take in other local filmmakers’ projects.

“I love to see stuff going on in the local community,” he said. “They’ve got a lot to offer.”

And that’s the message Poison Apple hoped to put out with the event, Smith said.

“Regardless if the film incentives are here, if Lifton shut their doors, I’m not gonna stop,” he said. “You can still make film here, it’s just a lot harder. I haven’t given up on it, and I don’t think I ever will.”